2 April 2020

Patience

Vincent Van Gogh, The Letters of a Post-Impressionist (London: Constable, 1912), p. 51:
The symbol of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, is as you know an ox. Thus one must be as patient as an ox if one would wish to cultivate the field of art. But how lucky oxen are to have nothing to do with this confounded business of painting! 
Id., p. 76:
Art is long and life is fleeting, and one must try with patience to sell one's life as dearly as possible.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cart with Red and White Ox (1884)

Aside: I thought At Eternity's Gate  was quite well done. It is on Amazon Prime Video.

30 March 2020

Art Offers Relief

Gustave Coquiot, Maurice Utrillo (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1925), pp. 60-61 (my translation):
I still remember — and how vividly! — the time, that happy time, when Utrillo worked only for me. Up there on the Butte, in the middle of the war, this strange monk shut up in his cell provided me with the only moments of relief I knew in the midst of all that hideous human carnage. Verdun, the mass graves, the deformed faces, all the blood, all the death, all the stench of the slaughterhouses, all the cries, all the horror of those lunatics who had been turned against each another by the butchers of Empire or Republic. When I contemplated a new painting by Utrillo, I forgot it all for a moment. The sight of a small white church, it gave one hope for less savage tomorrows. The war is finally over, crushed under the weight of so many corpses. What was the source of this brief feeling of respite? I do not want to analyze it too closely, for fear of regretting all the things which, if I had been born in a different age, I should have been able to share with others...
The libraries are shut down, hundreds of thousands of people are out of work, and Amazon says that book deliveries will be delayed: I can't think of a more auspicious time to announce that my translation of this monograph is now available in the United States and Canada. Readers in those countries may also visit Google Books for a preview.


Maurice Utrillo, Church at Anet (c. 1916-18)

27 March 2020

To Them Who Have Eyes to See and Hearts to Feel

William Ellery Channing, "The Religious Principle in Human Nature," The Perfect Life (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1873), pp. 12-13:
Beauty, that mysterious charm which is spread over and through the universe, who is unconscious of its winning attraction? Whose heart has not softened into joy, as he has looked on hill and valley and cultivated plain, on stream and forest, on the rising or setting sun, on the constant stars and the serene sky? Now whenever this love of the beautiful unfolds into strong emotion, its natural influence is to lead up our minds to contemplate a brighter Beauty than is revealed in creation. To them, who have eyes to see and hearts to feel the loveliness of nature, it speaks of a higher, holier Presence. They hear God in its solemn harmonies, they behold Him its fresh verdure, fair forms, and sunny hues. To great numbers, I am persuaded, the beauty of nature is a more affecting testimony to God than even its wise contrivance.

Carl Gustav Carus, Blick auf Dresden bei Sonnenuntergang (c. 1822)

25 March 2020

Poetry Readings Cancelled

George Orwell, "Poetry and the Microphone," The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. II (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 331-332:
In broadcasting your audience is conjectural, but it is an audience of one. Millions may be listening, but each is listening alone, or as a member of a small group, and each has (or ought to have) the feeling that you are speaking to him individually. More than this, it is reasonable to assume that your audience is sympathetic, or at least interested, for anyone who is bored can promptly switch you off by turning a knob. But though presumably sympathetic, the audience has no power over you. It is just here that a broadcast differs from a speech or a lecture. On the platform, as anyone used to public speaking knows, it is almost impossible not to take your tone from the audience. It is always obvious within a few minutes what they will respond to and what they will not, and in practice you are almost compelled to speak for the benefit of what you estimate as the stupidest person present, and also to ingratiate yourself by means of the ballyhoo known as "personality". If you don't do so, the result is always an atmosphere of frigid embarrassment. That grisly thing, a "poetry reading", is what it is because there will always be some among the audience who are bored or all but frankly hostile and who can't remove themselves by the simple act of turning a knob. And it is at bottom the same difficulty — the fact that a theatre audience is not a selected one — that makes it impossible to get a decent performance of Shakespeare in England. On the air these conditions do not exist. The poet feels that he is addressing people to whom poetry means something, and it is a fact that poets who are used to broadcasting can read into the microphone with a virtuosity they would not equal if they had a visible audience in front of them.

Eric Gill, Ariel Between Wisdom and Gaiety (1932)
Broadcasting House, London

19 March 2020

The Only Passion Which Augments With Age

John Claudius Loudon in the introduction to An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), p. 2:
The pleasure attending the pursuit of gardening is conducive to health and repose of mind; and a taste for the enjoyment of gardens is so natural to man, as almost to be universal. Our first most endearing and most sacred associations, Mrs. Hofland observes, are connected with gardens; our most simple and most refined perceptions of beauty are combined with them; and the very condition of our being compels us to the cares, and rewards us with the pleasures attached to them. Gardening has been the inclination of kings and the choice of philosophers, Sir William Temple has observed; and the Prince de Ligne, after sixty years’ experience, affirms, that the love of gardens is the only passion which augments with age: “Je voudrois,” he says, “échauffer tout l’univers de mon gôut pour les jardins. II me semble qu’il est impossible, qu’un méchant puisse 1’avoir. Il n’est point de vertus que je ne suppose à celui qui aime à parler et a faire des jardins. Pères de famille, inspirez la jardinomanie à vos enfans.” 1 (Memoires et Lettres, tom. i.)

That which makes the cares of gardening more necessary, or at least more excusable, the former author adds, is, that all men eat fruit that can get it; so that the choice is only, whether one will eat good or ill; and for all things produced in a garden, whether of salads or fruits, a poor man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has none.
My (liberal) translation from the French: "I wish I could make the whole universe as fond of gardens as I am. I do not believe a wicked person could share this fondness. If a man likes to discuss and cultivate gardens, I do not doubt any of his virtues. Family men, encourage a craze for gardening among your children!"

Arthur Melville, A Cabbage Garden (1877)

An unpaid endorsement:
I received my package from the Ontario Seed Company just 3 days after placing the order.

17 March 2020

O Foode of Filthy Woorme

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, "Cur Mundus Militat," lines 20-25, The Paradise Of Dainty Devices (1576-1606), ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), p. 6:
O foode of filthy woorme, oh lumpe of lothsome clay,                          20
O life full like the deawe, which mornyng sunne dooth waste:
O shadowe vayne, whose shape with sunne dooth shrinke away,
Why gloryest thou so much, in honour to be plaste?
Sith that no certayne houre, of life thou dost enjoy,
Most fyt it were, thy tyme in goodnesse to employ.                                25
Sith: Since

In his notes (p. 181), Rollins writes: "Perhaps no other poem was more popular in Middle English and Tudor English — to say nothing of French — than St. Bernard's."


George Frederic Watts,
Time, Death, and Judgement (1899-1900)

A related post: Of Worms and the Man I Sing

10 March 2020

A Disinclination to Sleep Away From Home

J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), p. 51:
Day after day that August, the weather stayed hot and dry. These days we call it real holiday weather but, then, only the well-to-do in those parts went far afield and even a week at Scarborough was remarkable. Folk stayed at home and took their pleasure from an agricultural show, a travelling fair, a Sunday-school outing or, if they had social pretentious, a tennis party with cucumber sandwiches. Most country people had a deep-rooted disinclination to sleep away from home and a belief that, like as not, to sojourn amongst strangers was to fall among them. It was the way they always had lived and, like their forefathers, they travelled no further than a horse or their own legs could carry them there and back in a day.

Charles-François Daubigny, Harvest (1851)

Related posts:

4 March 2020

Big in Japan

My translation of Henri Le Sidaner's biography is currently ranked 34th in the Art History category on Amazon Japan. I do not know why, but I am glad that it is so.

ありがとうございます


I've got the style, but not the grace.

A related post: Henri Le Sidaner

2 March 2020

Quarantine

Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 27.2-4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Indeed, nothing was left untouched and neglected, but with all the necessary details of life he [Lycurgus] blended some commendation of virtue or rebuke of vice; and he filled the city full of good examples, whose continual presence and society must of necessity exercise a controlling and moulding influence upon those who were walking the path of honour.

This was the reason why he did not permit them to live abroad at their pleasure and wander in strange lands, assuming foreign habits and imitating the lives of peoples who were without training and lived under different forms of government. Nay more, he actually drove away from the city the multitudes which streamed in there for no useful purpose, not because he feared they might become imitators of his form of government and learn useful lessons in virtue, as Thucydides says, but rather that they might not become in any wise teachers of evil. For along with strange people, strange doctrines must come in; and novel doctrines bring novel decisions, from which there must arise many feelings and resolutions which destroy the harmony of the existing political order. Therefore he thought it more necessary to keep bad manners and customs from invading and filling the city than it was to keep out infectious diseases.

Ambroise Tardieu, Lycurgus of Sparta (c. 1820-1828)

25 February 2020

What Then Is the Work of Life?

Daniel Defoe, "The Instability of Human Glory," English Essays, ed. J. H. Lobban (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1909), pp. 13-14:
What then is the work of life? What the business of great men, that pass the stage of the world in seeming triumph as these men, we call heroes, have done? Is it to grow great in the mouth of fame and take up many pages in history? Alas! that is no more than making a tale for the reading of posterity till it turns into fable and romance. Is it to furnish subject to the poets, and live in their immortal rhymes, as they call them? That is, in short, no more than to be hereafter turned into ballad and song and be sung by old women to quiet children, or at the corner of a street to gather crowds in aid of the pick-pocket and the poor. Or is their business rather to add virtue and piety to their glory, which alone will pass them into eternity and make them truly immortal? What is glory without virtue? A great man without religion is no more than a great beast without a soul. What is honour without merit? And what can be called true merit but that which makes a person be a good man as well as a great man?

Edward Burne-Jones, Love and the Pilgrim (1896-7)

13 February 2020

Honest and Deeply Worrying

Mark Boyle, The Way Home; Tales From a Life Without Technology (London: Oneworld Publications, 2019), pp. 26-28:
A few years ago, before I rejected the internet, I was searching online for an image of a wild crab apple, hoping to make a positive identification. Instead of finding photographs of the plum-leaved or hawthorn-leaved crab, the screen was dominated by the trademarked logo of the Apple corporation. Taken aback, I typed in ‘blackberry’ and ‘orange’ to see what would happen. I was offered mobile phone deals. I hadn’t heard of Tinder at the time, but I don’t imagine pictures of wood shavings, bracken, and birch bark would have monopolised the page.

Six months later I read Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, his remarkable, place-particularising contribution to a ‘glossary of enchantment for the whole earth’. In it he revealed some of the words that had been deleted from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. They included:
acorn, alder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow.
In their place, Oxford University Press had added:
attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, Chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voicemail.
The publishing company’s explanation that these are the things that now comprise a child’s life was pragmatic, understandable, honest, and deeply worrying.

In preparation for a life without the internet, a week or so before I unplugged I found a 2000 edition of the Collins English Dictionary; 1785 pages drawn from a ‘Bank of English’ consisting of examples of 323 million words. My own vocabulary has improved since getting it and using it to replace the online dictionaries I had used for years. If I wanted to understand the definition of a word in the past I would simply Google it, and by the time I had exhaled the ‘w’ of ‘now’ I’d have its meaning. But nothing else. Now if I want to find out the year Gerard Manley Hopkins died, my eye is caught by curiosities from hookworm (no thanks) to horn of plenty (another name for cornucopia — yes please) instead of a screenful of carefully targeted adverts.

Reading it is interesting. Only seven years older than the concise Oxford Junior Dictionary, there’s no mention of block-graph, blog, bullet-point, chatroom or MP3 player. There’s no entry either for currel – a word once specific to East Anglia which describes a specifically small stream – or smeuse, which Sussex farmers once called that ‘gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’.

The smartphone generation, having never played with them, will not miss words like ‘conkers’. It’s odd – when I was growing up in 1990s Ireland on a working-class council estate on the edgelands of a struggling town, no one ever asked me if I missed anything about the natural world. But the moment I choose bluebells over bullet-points I’ve found that everyone wants to know what I miss most about machines.

Willard Metcalf, Pasture, Old Lyme (1906)

11 February 2020

Death Will Reconcile Us All

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (London: Folio Society, 1992), p. 179:
Here we may observe, and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it, that a near view of death would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy situation in life and our putting these things far from us that our breaches are fomented, ill blood continued, prejudices, breach of charity and of Christian union, so much kept and so far carried on among us as it is. Another plague year would reconcile all these differences; a close conversing with death, or with diseases that threaten death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before. As the people who had been used to join with the Church were reconciled at this time with the admitting the Dissenters to preach to them, so the Dissenters, who with an uncommon prejudice had broken off from the communion of the Church of England, were now content to come to their parish churches and to conform to the worship which they did not approve of before; but as the terror of the infection abated, those things all returned again to their less desirable channel and to the course they were in before.

I mention this but historically. I have no mind to enter into arguments to move either or both sides to a more charitable compliance one with another. I do not see that it is probable such a discourse would be either suitable or successful; the breaches seem rather to widen, and tend to a widening further, than to closing, and who am I that I should think myself able to influence either one side or other? But this I may repeat again, that 'tis evident death will reconcile us all; on the other side the grave we shall be all brethren again. In heaven, whither I hope we may come from all parties and persuasions, we shall find neither prejudice or scruple; there we shall be of one principle and of one opinion. Why we cannot be content to go hand in hand to the place where we shall join heart and hand without the least hesitation, and with the most complete harmony and affection,—I say, why we cannot do so here I can say nothing to, neither shall I say anything more of it but that it remains to be lamented.

Arnold Böcklin, The Plague (1898)

6 February 2020

Take the Weight Off Your Psyche

Mary Hobson, The Feast; An Autobiography (London: Thorpewood Publishing, 2015), p. 76:
The person who benefits most from any translation is the translator. By the time you have sucked the juice out of every last Russian idea, thrown all the English words into the air which are in any way connected with it, found two that rhyme (sometimes three in Pushkin’s case), shunted them along to the end of the line, while attempting to preserve the music of the thing and rejecting anything that Jane Austen could not have said naturally in prose, continually asking yourself ‘How would Pushkin have said that if he’d been an Englishman?’, you feel as close to the poem as you're likely to get. And to the poet with whom you have now formed a relationship. It is addictive. Somewhere between a crossword and fine art. You'll never stop once you've started. And it has this additional advantage; you can take the weight off your psyche for an hour or two by trying to inhabit someone else’s.

Why is Jane Austen my standard? Because both Pushkin and Jane Austen wrote on the cusp of classicism and romanticism, and they took the best from both. Because they express so much in so few words, because they can both write with such wit and such grace that their profundity is sometimes overlooked.
Hobson began studying Russian when she was 56 and earned a PhD in the subject from London University when she was 74. She offers some advice about learning the language here. Those who speak Russian may be interested in her interview with the BBC World Service; it's beyond me. What little Russian I know comes from watching Leningrad videos: Где же Пушкин в кителе?

Valentin Serov, Alexander Pushkin on a Park Bench (1899)

28 January 2020

Miracles

Ralph Waldo Emerson, entry for November 6, 1828, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), pp. 118-119:
'Miracles have ceased.' Have they indeed? When? They had not ceased this afternoon when I walked into the wood and got into bright, miraculous sunshine, in shelter from the roaring wind. Who sees a pine-cone, or the turpentine exuding from the tree, or a leaf, the unit of vegetation, fall from its bough, as if it said, 'the year is finished' or hears in the quiet, piny glen the chickadee chirping his cheerful note, or walks along the lofty promontory-like ridges which, like natural causeways, traverse the morass, or gazes upward at the rushing clouds, or downward at a moss or a stone and says to himself, 'Miracles have ceased' ? Tell me, good friend, when this hillock on which your foot stands swelled from the level of the sphere by volcanic force; pick up that pebble at your foot; look at its gray sides, its sharp crystal, and tell me what fiery inundation of the world melted the minerals like wax, and, as if the globe were one glowing crucible, gave this stone its shape. There is the truth-speaking pebble itself, to affirm to endless ages the thing was so. Tell me where is the manufactory of this air, so thin, so blue, so restless, which eddies around you, in which your life floats, of which your lungs are but an organ, and which you coin into musical words. I am agitated with curiosity to know the secret of nature. Why cannot geology, why cannot botany speak and tell me what has been, what is, as I run along the forest promontory, and ask when it rose like a blister on heated steel? Then I looked up and saw the sun shining in the vast sky, and heard the wind bellow above and the water glistened in the vale. These were the forces that wrought then and work now. Yes, there they grandly speak to all plainly, in proportion as we are quick to apprehend.

Théodore Rousseau, A Path Among the Rocks (1861)

21 January 2020

Cheap Things Make Cheap Men

Charles Robert Ashbee, Craftsmanship in Competitive Industry; Being a Record of the Workshops of the Guild of Handicraft, and Some Deductions From Their Twenty-One Years' Experience (London: Essex House Press, 1908), pp. 92-93:
When Ruskin nearly half a century ago said that “cheap things made cheap men,” everybody thought the proposition absurd, but when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain suddenly repeated it as his own, in his own great city of Birmingham, at a time when things were getting unpleasantly cheaper and cheaper, it was found to be true. There is nothing like having the shoe pinch for bringing home the truth! The strange thing is that at all other great periods in the world’s history, the great civilizations have accepted this truth as an integral part of their social economy. We, however, have been blinded by the apparent success and the superficial results of our Industrialism from seeing it. But suddenly we are faced with a phenomenon, a monster with two heads, that we had never observed before. A vast output of rotten, useless, sweated, cheap industries, and a vast growth of nerveless, characterless, underfed, cheap men and women. The monster stands face to face with our civilization, it threatens to extinguish our culture, to destroy our life as a people.
A William Morris chair, sturdy and enduring
Free PDF plans available from Popular Woodworking

16 January 2020

Some Write Their Names for Those Behind

Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "The Ladder," Poems and Transcripts (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1878), pp. 10-11:
Life is a ladder which we all must climb;
Some climb alone and some in company;
Some clad in purple, some in tattered rags;
Some climb it followed by their fellow-men
In livery, and some by hungry duns;
Some followed by policemen half the way;
Some climb the ladder boldly, sword in hand,
And others slowly, yawning at each step;
And each man bears a load upon his back:
With one it is a heavy bag of gold;
Another upwards with a load of aches.
Or, worse, a load of evil conscience goes.
All with a weight of care. And all along
The ladder's length are overhanging boughs.
With fruits and flowers for the strong to pluck;
But many, snatching, overreach and fall.
And there are boughs, beneath whose grateful shade
We fain would stop, but we are hurried on,
As in a treadmill, to the journey's end;
And woe to him who looks too far ahead,
Nor feels each step that comes beneath his foot.
Much angry hustling on the way occurs;
The steps are narrow, and the crowd is great:
Some men, in mounting, cling to others' skirts.
But some to others lend a helping hand,
And care but little how they fare themselves.
Some on the ladder write their names for those
Behind to read, but most can leave no trace.
Most climbers drop before they get half-way;
Some, jostled off by treacherous neighbours, fall;
And some jump off, of their own sad accord.
But few are those who reach the topmost bars,
With hair fast whitening as they upward go.
And gathering honours as they take each step;
And when once there, they heave a gentle sigh.
And, scarcely conscious, softly smile — and die.

Maurice Denis, L'Échelle dans le feuillage (1892)

Other poems by Lee-Hamilton:

13 January 2020

We Like the Picture, We Like the Glow

Olive Schreiner, “The Artist's Secret,” Dreams (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892), pp. 119-122:
There was an artist once, and he painted a picture. Other artists had colours richer and rarer, and painted more notable pictures. He painted his with one colour, there was a wonderful red glow on it; and the people went up and down, saying, “We like the picture, we like the glow.”

The other artists came and said, “Where does he get his colour from?” They asked him; and he smiled and said, “I cannot tell you”; and worked on with his head bent low.

And one went to the far East and bought costly pigments, and made a rare colour and painted, but after a time the picture faded. Another read in the old books, and made a colour rich and rare, but when he had put it on the picture it was dead.

But the artist painted on. Always the work got redder and redder, and the artist grew whiter and whiter. At last one day they found him dead before his picture, and they took him up to bury him. The other men looked about in all the pots and crucibles, but they found nothing they had not.

And when they undressed him to put his grave-clothes on him, they found above his left breast the mark of a wound — it was an old, old wound, that must have been there all his life, for the edges were old and hardened; but Death, who seals all things, had drawn the edges together, and closed it up.

And they buried him. And still the people went about saying, “Where did he find his colour from?”

And it came to pass that after a while the artist was forgotten — but the work lived.

Carlos Schwabe's illustration for this story, taken from the French edition,
tr. Henriette Mirabaud-Thorends (Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1912), p. 89.
Image credit: Gallica

3 January 2020

A Fine Barn

Ralph Waldo Emerson, undated entry from 1828, The Heart of Emerson's Journals, ed. Bliss Perry (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926), p. 41:
I like to have a man’s knowledge comprehend more than one class of topics, one row of shelves. I like a man who likes to see a fine barn as well as a good tragedy.
Alex Colville, Windmill and Farm (1947)